In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
The Parables of Our Lord often misunderstood and misapplied. If you engage in a little bit of “Google Theology” and do a search for applications on the Parable of the Sower, you get a lot of self-help material. Preaching on it takes the avenue of what you have to do or ought to be doing so you can be that well-tilled field where the seed takes root and bears an abundant harvest. Even some of our English Bibles, with the generally helpful editorial additions of headings at the start of new sections, does a bit of misleading. A good number of translations title this “The Parable of the Soils.” All of this skews the understanding of the Parable, the reasons for which Jesus originally told it, and that is to show how His Word works miraculously, creating faith where it is heard, faith which gives everlasting life.
At the same time, don’t take what I’ve just said as ticket to sit here passively and not give any examination to your life, both here in church and in the other 167 hours a week you spend outside of this place. This Parable does elicit some soul-searching, the discernment that comes by faith and the Holy Spirit. It does make us as Christians step back from our lives and ask, “How am I living? What type of reception does the Word find in my life?” And because we have flesh, each one of us must confess that the Word doesn’t find us as well-tilled soil as often as we think. And as long as we are in this world, it won’t! Some days are better than others, regardless of the topic. But let’s think about that in regards to faith. Some days we are that well-tilled soil, eager to hear the Word of God, eager to do good works and everything else that comes about as a result of faith. But then there are days where we would really like to heed the Word, but there are just too many stresses in life that either steal all the Word’s attention in our minds or prevent us from nourishing our faith the way we ought. We know the litany—there are bills to pay, classes to pass, families to organize, health to maintain, and the list goes on. And, sadly, there are even days when the Word is snatched away, times when we gladly give into sin. We don’t want the Word to take root, so we simply ignore that it’s there by silencing our conscience or using the favorite justification for sin, “I’ll behave tomorrow.” Our Christian life has its ups and downs. This is called “sanctification,” growth we experience in good works that come from faith, and the days where our faith is that smoldering wick of which Isaiah spoke. Some days we’re the hard road with circling birds, some days we’re rich soil, tilled and ready to bring forth a great harvest.
In light of that, pay attention to the Sower. He is the most ridiculous farmer in the history of the world. He doesn’t take soil samples, he isn’t riding a tractor planting in straight, even lines only in the best of soil. He simply sticks his hand in his seed bag, takes a handful, throws it, and lets it land where it may. He is glad to gather a harvest wherever it may grow. Of course, as Jesus explained to His disciples, He is the Sower and His Word is the seed. And because of that, if this Parable isn’t comforting, I don’t know what is. As you rise and fall in sanctification, riding the seesaw between highs and lows, Jesus never forsakes you. He doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re definitely rocky soil today. No Word for you until you straighten yourself out!” If anything, He scatters more seed, sending you His Word more and more because that Word does something, that Word works! Just as the Lord said through Isaiah, “My Word shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Jesus knows all the things that attack us, that do their best to get us to doubt God’s Word and to prevent it from taking root. We are attacked by false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. We live in perilous times, as the Church has lived since Pentecost until this very day. We need strength and encouragement, so God has given us Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Absolution, prayer, the mutual consolation of the brothers, Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and the list goes on. That is why the writer to the Hebrews admonishes you, “Do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). As easy as it can be to avoid reading the Word outside of the Divine Service, as comfortable as sleeping in and brunch may sound on a Sunday, do not neglect the Word, do not neglect meeting around the Altar. Through the Word the Lord sustains you as a father feeds his children. What prayer, Absolution, and all the other Sacraments have in common is that they bring good news from God, rain that softens the earth in Isaiah’s image, and the seed in the Parable of the Sower, all that there might be a harvest of faith. What we cannot obtain for ourselves, God sends to us. He guards and keeps us as His own by the Sacraments when He comes to earth for us, to feed and nourish, to strengthen and encourage us, to dig up the rocks, to cut down the thorns, to drive off the birds, and to give us water. This Parable’s comfort is not only found in the reckless love of the Divine Sower, but in the promise of conversion, the fact that Jesus, by His Blood, can convert even the driest, most compact dirt into rich soil that brings forth a harvest a hundredfold. If He couldn’t soften your heart, if His Holy Spirit couldn’t convert you and work faith in you, there would be no reason to tell this Parable. Instead, it is proof of the power of the Word and the immeasurable love of God that scatters it freely in every place.
And that’s why the Sower sows so recklessly and why He keeps sowing. The power does not come from the soil. The Gospel isn’t a self-help manual written to tell you how to turn your life around. The power, the hope, the comfort, is all in God and His Word which does not return void. His Word is power and promise. It does what it says, creates what it calls to be and what it demands. We cannot continue, we cannot live without it. When and where God causes it to take root, where the Blood of Jesus is poured across repentant lisp, where the faithful are gathered to receive His Word, God creates a harvest a hundredfold. Faith is always a miracle, always a gift, and it always saves—regardless of its fluctuations of strength from day to day. Any amount is enough, any amount is a gift of God, created and nourished by Him.
When you find yourself in despair, when it feels like you are anything but that good soil, turn to the Words of the Psalmist from today’s Introit, the Words of Psalm 44. Though he is afflicted and oppressed, bowed down to the dust, he pleads with God. He does not tout his own righteousness, but trusts in the steadfast mercy of God: “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, the deeds You did in their days, in the days of old: You drove out the nations with Your hand, but them You planted…nor did their own arm save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance.” Just as the sower scattered recklessly, so does God freely give you His mercy, His forgiveness, His Holy Spirit. He will freely give you all things so that you may stand with the Psalmist and rejoice: “You have saved us from our enemies, and have put to shame those who hated us. In God we boast all day long, and praise Your Name forever” (Ps. 44:7-8).
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).